1 John Lesson Five: 1 John 2:28-3:10 – Another Demand for Right Action

So now, little children, remain in Him, so that when He appears we may have boldness and not be ashamed before Him at His coming. 29 If you know that He is righteous, you know this as well: Everyone who does what is right  has been born of Him.  3 Look at how great a love the Father has given us that we should be called God’s children. And we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it didn’t know Him. Dear friends, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him  because we will see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself just as He is pure. 

Everyone who commits sin also breaks the law; sin is the breaking of law. You know that He was revealed so that He might take away sins, and there is no sin in Him.  Everyone who remains in Him does not sin; everyone who sins has not seen Him or known Him. 

Little children, let no one deceive you! The one who does what is right is righteous, just as He is righteous. The one who commits sin is of the Devil, for the Devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God was revealed for this purpose: to destroy the Devil’s works. Everyone who has been born of God does not sin, because His seed remains in him; he is not able to sin, because he has been born of God. 10 This is how God’s children—and the Devil’s children—are made evident. (HCSB)

I’ll be dividing this passage into two sections.

  • God’s great love for us – verses 2:28-3:3.
  • God’s children do not live in sin – verses 3:4-10.

God’s Great Love for Us

The end of chapter two, verses twenty-eight and twenty-nine, serve as a bridge from the previous section and chapter three. If we begin our Christian life by believing and trusting in Jesus, what comes next? It’s in this “what’s next” phase that many churches today fail to follow Jesus’ command in Matthew 28, “make disciples.” Although it may appear on the surface that John isn’t addressing the issue of discipleship, when you look at this passage in a “macro sense,” you will see that John is talking about discipleship. Now, let’s take a closer look at this passage.

  • John begins with the phrase “little children.” John is talking about fellow believers.
  • However, there has been much debate in scholarly circles regarding the understanding of the phrases “remain in Him” and “have boldness and not be ashamed.” There are three main interpretations of this verse.
    • John is talking about unsaved individuals being ashamed when Jesus returns. The drawback with this interpretation is that John begins the verse by addressing Christians.
    • If we don’t remain in fellowship with Jesus, we’ll lose our salvation and be ashamed when Jesus returns. This is a main divergent point in the centuries-old debate between the schools of Calvin and Armenius.
      • Armenians teach that a believer can lose their salvation.
      • Calvinists teach that once a person is elected and saved, they can never lose salvation.
    • If we don’t remain in fellowship with Jesus, we’ll retain our salvation but be ashamed of our actions.
      • Each believer will stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
      • There, our works will be evaluated, and eternal rewards handed out.
      • 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 – our work will be revealed as either perishable or imperishable.
      • 1 Corinthians 4:5 – the intentions of our heart will be revealed.
      • 2 Corinthians 5:10 – we will be repaid for what we have done, whether good or worthless.
    • The judgment seat of Christ will not be a completely joyful experience for those who have squandered the spiritual gifts they were given or walked in disobedience.
    • However, the shame will be relatively short-lived. Revelation 21:4 – God will wipe away every tear. 
    • It will not be a perpetual experience, but still something to avoid.
  • The end of verse twenty-nine presents a challenge if we read it and ignore the context of the surrounding verses and the totality of Scripture.
    • An example of someone who lived a sacrificial life and met the needs of others would be Gandhi. However, Gandhi rejected Jesus, meaning he couldn’t be born of God. 
    • The context of this letter was to address the false teachings of the Gnostics, who claimed to know God through some special inner knowledge.
      • The Gnostics taught that the spirit was good and untouched by the actions of the physical body. 
      • They believed they could sin without remorse or consequence since the spirit was untouched by sin.
      • They claimed to be Christians, to know God, but they hated real Christians and lived sinful lives.
    • The intent behind the ending of this verse is that if someone claims to be a Christian but doesn’t do what is right, they aren’t a Christian.
  • John now shifts gears and talks about God’s amazing love for us.
    • Those who decide to follow Jesus become God’s children.
      • While every person is “wondrously made,” there is a distinction between believers and unbelievers.
      • Believers become a member of God’s spiritual family.
    • In verse one, the term “know” is better understood as “accept.”
      • Unbelievers don’t accept God.
      • Therefore, they don’t accept believers.
    • Even though believers are children of God, on this side of eternity, we won’t fully grasp what this means.
      • The full extent “has not yet been revealed” to us. 
      • Each believer has a different level of understanding regarding our relationship with God and our transformation through submission to Jesus and empowerment by the Holy Spirit.
      • The transformation, which is incomplete in our physical body, will be instantaneous and complete once we see Jesus.
    • When we begin to grasp the unbelievable wonder of this fact, this will motivate us to live pure and holy lives.
      • We will want to live holy lives because Jesus is holy.
      • Often, our weak commitment to holiness is due to our dim perception of who Jesus is and who we have become through Him. 
      • When we gain a fuller understanding of Romans 8:17 (coheirs with Christ), we’ll understand that we are destined to rule and reign with Jesus in heaven.
    • One of our resources for holy living is to ponder and meditate on who Jesus is, who we have become through Him, and what our eternal existence will be like when we meet Him.

God’s Children Do Not Live in Sin

The next section of John’s letter has generated much debate among scholars and theologians. It’s difficult to find much common ground, even in well-respected commentaries. Therefore, we shouldn’t be alarmed if the average believer struggles with understanding this passage. Now, let’s start to dig into this section.

  • Verse four shouldn’t cause any misunderstanding. When we sin, we break God’s law. Sin is lawlessness. There are several other biblical definitions of sin.
    • Proverbs 24:9 – A foolish scheme is sin.
    • Romans 14:23 – Everything that is not from a conviction is sin.
    • James 4:17 – So it is a sin for the person who knows to do what is good and doesn’t do it.
    • 1 John 5:17 – All unrighteousness is sin.
  • There isn’t a single overarching biblical definition of sin.
    • Each of the preceding examples is part of the whole sin.
    • Verse four states that sin is lawlessness.
    • Lawlessness is a characteristic of the spirit of the antichrist.
    • 2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 – Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way. For that day will not come unless the apostasy comes first and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship,  so that he sits in God’s sanctuary, publicizing that he himself is God.
  • The man of lawlessness doesn’t reign; he has no power except what we give to him. 
  • Jesus is the one who reigns and takes away the sins of the world.
    • The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus are the remedy for sin.
    • Jesus lived a life free from sin.
    • His was a once and for all perfect sacrifice to restore our fellowship with God.
  • Verse six is where it becomes quite challenging, and there is quite a bit of disagreement on the interpretation. This is especially true when the end of verse nine is considered with verse six.
  • Consider the phrases “Everyone who remains in Him does not sin: everyone who sins has not seen Him or known Him,” “The one who commits sin is of the Devil,” “Everyone who has been born of God does not sin…he is not able to sin.”
    • These phrases can be quite unsettling to the believer.
    • We know that we sin. We may be wrestling with some type of sin bondage in our lives. 
    • These phrases do anything but comfort us with the assurance of salvation.
    • There are numerous passages of Scripture that tell us that we will sin until we enter heaven.
    • There are several scholarly interpretations of this section.
      • The willful-sin position: The sins are willful and deliberate, not involuntary or unintentional sins. However, even believers can commit major, premeditated sins.
      • The habitual-sin position: A believer can’t live a lifestyle of willful, unrepentant sin. We may sin badly, and we may go through periods of backsliding, but we will never settle into a lifestyle that is characterized by sin. To a certain extent, the Gnostics followed this example.
      • The ideal-character position: A believer should strive for the ideal of living a sinless life, with the understanding that it is unreachable in the flesh. It is better to try and fail than never to try.
      • The new-man position: The “new man” is a perfect creation. The new or inner man is regenerated, and there is no condemnation for him (or her). Until we enter heaven, our inner man will battle our fleshly desires.
      • There are other positions, but they are mostly variations of the ones presented.
    • Although there is much debate on what is said, there is general agreement on what is not being said.
      • John is not saying a Christian will never commit sin.
      • When a Christian commits sin, they will not lose salvation.
  • Verse seven warns the believer not to be deceived. This deception can come from several sources.
    • False teachers who knowingly distort Scripture.
    • Those who don’t understand what Scripture is saying lead others astray without realizing it.
    • The spirits of darkness, often working through others, to lead us astray.
  • The reader also needs to link 3:7 back to 2:29.
    • Doing what is right does not make a person righteous.
    • If a person is righteous, they will do what is right.
    • Righteousness comes from an obedient relationship with Jesus.
  • John makes it clear in verse eight that those who deliberately live in sin, deny the truth in Scripture, and deliberately lead others astray are followers of the antichrist.
    • At the same time, believers need to hear what John is saying.
    • When believers sin, they are temporarily siding with the devil, and they shouldn’t do that.
    • Sin originated with the devil. Sin opposes Jesus.
    • When believers realize they have sinned, they need to confess and repent.
  • Verse nine presents the same challenges as verse six. The same options for understanding verse six equally apply here.
  • What does John mean by the word “seed?”
    • It could refer to the Word of God.
    • It could refer to the Holy Spirit.
    • It could refer to the regenerated spirit when a believer is born again.
  • All three are true statements and are taught in other places in Scripture.
  • John is teaching that sin and salvation are opposites.
    • Wanting to sin is not being led by the Spirit.
    • Wanting to sin is not having a relationship with Christ.
    • If a believer finds themselves in this situation, they need to reexamine their commitment to Christ.
  • Christians make themselves known as God’s children by doing what is right and loving others.
  • Children of the devil make themselves known by refusing to do what is right and refusing to love others.

Applications

  • Be careful of false teachings and false teachers. John was addressing a specific problem, Gnostics, the readers were facing. The church today still faces false teachers and teachings; the prosperity gospel, acceptance of homosexuality and same-sex marriage, and more than male and female genders. These are just a few of the challenges the modern church faces, but they are legitimate threats that must be faced and addressed.
  • If you are a believer and you are deliberately living in sin, you need to reexamine your relationship with Christ. Scripture is clearly warning believers that when believers live in this manner, they are living in opposition to Jesus and aligning themselves with the devil.
  • When believers sin, they need to confess and repent quickly. It’s too easy to slip into a sin cycle. We should also watch out for our brothers and sisters if they are struggling with sin. We need to come alongside of them, pray for them, and support them.

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